The Problem of Eating Disorders Part 1Guest blog post by Rita Schulte
The National Eating Disorder Association estimates that there are ten million American women who suffer from some kind of eating disorder. According to research, anorexia is the third most common chronic illness among adolescents, while Time magazine revealed that 80% of all children have been on a diet by the time they reach fourth grade. Let’s face it, something is terribly wrong.
We’re all bombarded with images today, most of which communicate one message; thin is in, and how you look matters—a lot. With such a tremendous amount of emphasis placed on appearance in our culture, men and women in the U.S. have become obsessed with their body image. What is body image? It refers to a person’s perceptions, thoughts and beliefs about the attractiveness of their physical body. The term was coined by the Austrian neurologist and psychoanalyst Paul Schilder in his work The Image and Appearance of the Human Body (1935).
Most people voice complaints about their bodies, but their dissatisfaction doesn’t cause them significant distress. If you think you spend a good portion of time thinking, worrying or ruminating about your body, weights, or looks, ask yourself the following questions:
- How much time do I spend thinking about my appearance?
- Is that time spent judging, criticizing and condemning my appearance?
- Do I worry what others think about my appearance?
- Do I believe my looks determine my value and worth?
- How much time, energy and effort do I spend on my looks?
- Am I always on a diet?
- Do I obsess about certain parts of my body?
- Do I feel inadequate because of my appearance?
If you answered yes to three or more of these questions, it’s clear that your body image is creating a significant problem for you. A negative body image can pave the way for anxiety/depressive disorders, as well as eating disordered behavior.
The Performance Treadmill
My friend Jesse started out just wanting to lose a few pounds. She believed that in order to sustain the attention that was paid to her appearance, she needed to look perfect and be perfect. This fed her need for value and self –worth—at least on the surface. Looking back at her life, she began to see just how important that attention became, driving her to sacrifice herself on the altar of performance. Her entire life became centered on the belief that being thin and perfect would buy her the happiness and success she desperately craved.
If we’re honest, most of us can relate. We may not be starving ourselves to death in the search for significance, but we all use some type of performance strategies in order to get our needs met and manage our feelings of pain and rejection. Whether we’re people pleasing, trying hard, avoiding, obsessing about our bodies, or not eating, we’re sending out a clear message that in order to be acceptable we must stay on the performance treadmill.
Shame about who we are, or how we look, creates an imposter— a false self to hide behind that helps protect our dreaded secret of being unmasked. Even those closest to us are not always privy to knowing our authentic self. If we can’t convince ourselves of our own intrinsic worth, how in the world will others see us as valuable? The only solution is to pretend—- and continue to perform. Why? Because pretending, like hiding, provides the following advantages:
- Helping us to get our needs met for love, acceptance, value, security and adequacy
- Helping us to avoid the pain and rejection of life
- Helping us to solve our problems independently from God
- Giving us a false sense of meaning
- Creating a false identity to avoid being known
Perhaps the saddest thing about the imposter is that we create him in response to the endless tapes playing in our heads that tell us we’re falling short. He deceives us into thinking he has our best interests at heart, and that if we listen to him, we’ll get what we want. Of course, we don’t realize all this at the beginning. We think we’re the ones in control and calling all the shots. We’re listening to his voice because we believe he can actually do something for us. The problem is, after a while, we can’t tell who’s who.
The first step toward healing is choosing to get rid of the imposter. There are two of you, and one has to go. That starts by noticing all the ways the imposter sabotages you. Identify his voice and replace it with the truth. How? Glad you asked. PART TWO WILL BE POSTED NEXT WEEK!
Rita Schulte is a licensed professional board certified counselor. Rita has a private practice with offices in Fairfax and Manassas Virginia where she specializes in the treatment of eating disorders, anxiety and depressive disorders as well as bereavement. She leads a monthly group for women of domestic violence with Luthern Social Services and is certified in Critical Incident Stress Mangaement. She has worked extensively with grief and loss issues and has completed her first book, Sifted As Wheat, which is currently in the publishing process. Her website is http://ritaschulte.com/